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Subject: 1917-2017 Cambrai Centennial Scenario rss

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Pete Belli
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1917-2017 Cambrai Centennial Scenario





This year will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Cambrai that began on November 20, 1917. The struggle at Cambrai was one of the most interesting campaigns of the First World War. Both commanders had an opportunity to attack successfully. The order of battle included infantry, tanks, aircraft, cavalry, and German assault formations known as Stosstruppen. While it was not a strategically decisive battle the engagement provided a glimpse of things to come in 1918.

Since this scenario depicts formations at the regiment or brigade level the classic Memoir '44 system was a better match for Cambrai than The Great War which (in my opinion) is primarily a portrayal of small-unit actions. The scale of a board with each hex representing a portion of a WWI battlefield approximately 2000 yards across is certainly more operational than tactical. The earlier Richard Borg design provides a good framework for the Cambrai narrative.






This centennial scenario has everything you might expect in a game depicting Cambrai: infantry, tanks, artillery, cavalry, aircraft, poison gas, trenches, canal crossings, and a surprise attack phase.






Of course, there is also a rule for infantry attacks supported by Stosstruppen when the German commander decides to play the special Counter-Attack event card. More on that portion of the scenario later.






Here is a photograph of the complete scenario display with figures, tokens, cards, dice, etc. The map is a 20 hex by 15 hex monster. Since infantry units are depicted at the brigade/regimental level there are over 300 miniatures in the scenario. Each infantry figure represents between 1000 and 1250 men and each tank miniature represents a battalion of armored vehicles.

Field Marshal Haig knew the Germans had the capacity to respond to the British attack with large numbers of reinforcements after 48 hours. The original plan called for an evaluation of British progress at that point. When his infantry supported by tanks punched a big hole in the German line Haig became overconfident and continued the attack even though the initial British objectives had not been acheived. In this scenario the British player can win an immediate "propaganda victory" if a careless German commander loses control of all three high ground complexes and allows a British cavalry unit to cross the canal.

The allied army included soldiers from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, India, Canada, and even a handful of Americans. For convenience, these forces will be referred to as the "British" army.






Tanks have received a tremendous amount of attention in popular descriptions of the battle. While tanks did provide valuable combat support for the infantry (tanks add one battle dice to a close assault in this scenario) the primary contribution of these armored beasts was clearing a path through the fiendish systems of barbed wire. Tanks were not useful in wooded terrain and were dangerously exposed when operating on hills or ridges. Tanks do not offer any combat benefit to infantry attacking those terrain types.






Flesquieres Ridge nearly became the graveyard of the Royal Tank Corps. The armored vehicles used in 1917 were mechanically unreliable so after every infantry close assault supported by a tank the British player has to roll for a possible breakdown. The wrench token is a breakdown marker representing disabled vehicles. Tanks were vulnerable to artillery fire, armor-piercing bullets, and German infantrymen using improvised satchel charges. After a couple of turns most of these tanks will be out of the game.

Units from the 51st Highland Division (shown here) have the option to ignore one retreat flag; the Guards Division also has this special ability.






This was World War One. Artillery is the queen of the battlefield. All of that hype about "the first Blitzkrieg" is mostly a lot of big talk by armored warfare theorists. The meticulous preparation for the initial British bombardment used the latest scientific methods available in 1917. It was a triumph of "modern" technology. British artillery is automatically on target for every close assault during the surprise attack phase.






Artillery units can perform three different missions.

A regular bombardment uses standard M'44 rules with the guns rolling a 3-3-2-2-1-1-1-1 sequence on the battle dice. A "rolling barrage" (also known as a "creeping barrage" or a "lifting barrage" or a "drumfire barrage") is used to support an infantry close assault and adds an extra battle dice. The defensive "SOS barrage" is used when a friendly unit is under assault and removes one of the attacking player's battle dice.

Artillery units never require orders to move or fire and may perform all three missions one time during each turn.






British infantry units were not accustomed to offensive warfare in open terrain. The divisions selected to participate in the surprise attack did rehearse with tank formations before the attack. While this "clockwork battle" method worked quite well to breach the first German trench line coordination between tanks and infantry was poor once deeper penetrations were made.






British tanks crushed the wire entanglements and the infantry brigades smashed into the shocked German defenders. German units adjacent to a British formation during this surprise attack phase have two options: retreat one hex or remain in position and possibly be destroyed next turn.

The small markers indicate that the wire has been "cut" in this section of No Man's Land. Once a pathway has been cleared artillery and cavalry units may pass through a front line hex.






Detailed trench maps from 1917 are available on the internet. This section in the area of Bourlon Wood and the village of Fontaine shows that at this scale nearly every hex on the German side of the front line would contain a trench, a concrete strongpoint, or a gun emplacement. The weaker defenses constructed by the British consisted of a trench line; the Germans built a strong trench system that was a couple of miles deep. A German unit on the east side of the front line is always considered to be entrenched and receives a -1 defensive advantage.






A cavalry formation has managed to cross the St. Quentin Canal early in the session. This is an important British objective so the pennant is used to record that accomplishment. In 1917 the British stumbled as they approached this water barrier and a comedy of errors occurred... one British tank attempted to cross an inadequate bridge and ended up in the canal when the structure collapsed.






Cavalry divisions clogged the roads. The plan assumed that a handful of weak cavalry formations maneuvering beyond Cambrai after the breakthrough would shatter the German defenses. That appears to be wishful thinking on the part of British cavalry officers who couldn't accept the end of an era. In the scenario cavalry can move four hexes or move two hexes and fire. Cavalry rolls a pathetic 2-1 sequence on the battle dice and cavalry formations receive no defensive benefits from terrain.






The scenario uses a special "hot" deck created by combining the most exciting cards from two standard M'44 sets. For example, there are two General Advance cards, two Pincer Move cards, and four Direct From HQ cards. Other cards have been modified as events.

"Dig In" is played by the British commander when the momentum of his offensive has been lost. The card provides a number of benefits beyond entrenchments including replacement figures and the removal of depleted cavalry formations. "Counter-Attack" is played by the German commander when he is ready to release the Stosstruppen. The card also provides extra support like additional artillery and the use of poison gas.

Random events include "Air Power" (German aircraft led by the Red Baron take control of the skies over Cambrai) and "Armored Assault" (a spontaneous advance by British infantry units supported by tanks) and these events occur immediately when the card appears.






Bourlon Ridge is one of the three high ground complexes that are crucial to victory. It was the scene of brutal fighting in 1917 and the ridge is hotly contested in this scenario. German units with the special token have received extra training in the newest infiltration tactics. Contrary to popular belief, there were no "Stosstruppen divisions" at Cambrai. Most of the attacks were carried out by line regiments.

That British unit with the special token is one of the Guards brigades in action at Cambrai.






Once the number of tanks had been greatly reduced by breakdowns or battle losses the British attacks at Cambrai largely consisted of the typical WWI equation of infantry against machine guns. Additional brigades were fed into the battle with predictable results. A few divisions sent as reinforcements were exhausted by the time the much larger German counterattack force hit the overextended British lines.






As more and more fresh German divisions arrive the British player decides to play the "Dig In" event card. A number of captured German entrenchments have been prepared for all-around defense. Several depleted brigades have received replacement figures. Enough tanks have been repaired to rebuild one formation. Now the beleaguered British commander attempts to prepare for the coming storm.






When the "Counter-Attack" card is player by the German commander all Stosstruppen are activated. These unique Stosstruppen units automatically receive artillery support for a close assault and may move two hexes and battle. If they advance into a hex following an enemy retreat (or the destruction of a British unit) the Stosstruppen may move one additional hex in any direction. This ridge complex at La Vacquerie is another important terrain objective for both players.

Poison gas tokens may be added to three separate close assaults. These chemical weapon attacks provide an extra battle dice.

After this single turn of special performance the combat power of these formations has been dissipated and they revert to regular infantry status.

There is a biplane miniature in this photograph. Aircraft can perform two missions during each turn: aerial reconnaissance for long-range artillery fire and support for a close assault. Aircraft never require orders and have unlimited movement. Each player has just a single biplane miniature.






A hodgepodge of British infantry, cavalry, and artillery units are attempting to block a German advance on the supply depot at Gouzeaucourt. The dark gray German miniature brandishing a pistol is a staff officer. Each commander has three staff officer miniatures. A staff officer may be dispatched once each turn and issue an order to a single unit. To reflect the limitations of corps boundaries and poor communication on the Great War battlefield only one staff officer may be assigned to each section of the board.

That column of British reinforcements (indicated by the red arrows) has a special road movement ability until the soldiers reach a front line hex or are within two hexes of a German unit.

In 1917 the Germans captured the supplies at Gouzeaucourt but the men halted to pillage and plunder. This gave the British time to gather troops for a counterattack. Yes, there is a rule for that...




Now we will compare the historical result in 1917 to the scenario victory conditions:

The Germans control Bourlon Ridge (5 points) and also the La Vacquerie hill complex (3 points) and seized Gouzeaucourt (1 point) for a total of 9 points.

The British control Flesquieres Ridge (4 points) and put a cavalry unit across the canal (1 point) while also securing a canal bridge with the 29th Division (1 point) for a total of 6 points.

If losses were about even the German player would be declared the winner.




The completion of this scenario would have been impossible without the help of some expert C&C playtesters. A special "Thank you!" goes out to Jeff and Neal.
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Tiggo Morrison
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Fabulous as usual!
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Mayor Jim
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Very well done, as usual...and timely...thanks!
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Starfleet Droid
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Where did you get all those plastics minis from please?
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Pete Belli
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10010110 wrote:
Where did you get all those plastics minis from please?


Good question.

Caesar 035 WWI German Army
Emhar 7209 WWI American Infantry
HaT 8235 WWI Highlanders
HaT 8256 WWI British Artillery Crew
HaT 8109 WWI German Artillery
Cavalry from Memoir '44: Equipment Pack
Biplanes from Dogfight
Tanks are Micro Machines
Cannon are Micro Machines
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Michael Wintz
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Thank you Pete.

Always appreciative of your reports.
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Mark McG
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Kind of off topic, but C&C WW1 (The Great War) cover this battle with a series of scenarios

125 - Cambrai (Siegfried Stellung Line) - 20 November 1917
126 - Cambrai (Siegfried Stellung Line - Part 2) - 20 November 1917
127 - Cambrai (Flesquieres Ridge) - 20 November 1917
128 - Cambrai (Havrincourt Village) - 20 November 1917
129 - Cambrai (Graincourt) - 20 November 1917
130 - Cambrai (St. Quientin Canal) - 21 November 1917
131 - Cambrai (Fontaine-Notre-Dame) - 23-25 November 1917
132 - Cambrai (Bourlon Village & Wood) - 23-25 November 1917
133 - Cambrai (German Counter Attack) - 30 November 1917

https://www.commandsandcolors.net/thegreatwar/maps/western-f...
 
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Pete Belli
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Minedog3 wrote:
Kind of off topic, but C&C WW1 (The Great War) cover this battle with a series of scenarios

125 - Cambrai (Siegfried Stellung Line) - 20 November 1917
126 - Cambrai (Siegfried Stellung Line - Part 2) - 20 November 1917
127 - Cambrai (Flesquieres Ridge) - 20 November 1917
128 - Cambrai (Havrincourt Village) - 20 November 1917
129 - Cambrai (Graincourt) - 20 November 1917
130 - Cambrai (St. Quientin Canal) - 21 November 1917
131 - Cambrai (Fontaine-Notre-Dame) - 23-25 November 1917
132 - Cambrai (Bourlon Village & Wood) - 23-25 November 1917
133 - Cambrai (German Counter Attack) - 30 November 1917

https://www.commandsandcolors.net/thegreatwar/maps/western-f...


Playing one of those small scenarios might be a good way to commemorate the 1917-2017 centennial.
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Pete Belli
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Today is the 100th anniversary of the battle of Cambrai.

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